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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 43 October 15, 2022

Book Review: Can India’s public universities be remodelled? | P.S. Jayaramu

Saturday 15 October 2022, by P S Jayaramu


Reviewd by P.S. Jayaramu

Remodelling the Universities:
Meeting Challenges of the 21st Century

by Srinivas K. Saidapur

(New Delhi, Atlantic Publishers, 2022, Pages189, Hard Bound, Price Rs. 795)

(30th September, 2022)

The author of this book Dr. Srinivas K. Saidapur is a well known Scientist, thinker and educational administrator, having served Karnatak University, Dharwad, for long years as Professor of Zoology and Vice Chancellor. He is the recipient of many prestigious awards including the ‘Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize.

The book begins with a historical sketch of Indian universities, with an apt quote from Jawaharlal Nehru where, who said : “ A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for adventure of ideas and for the search for truth...if the universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people”. (P.1). Sage words from Nehru and very relevant to the times we live in. Prof. Saidapur writes about the Gurukul system in ancient India, advances in the field of education in places like Nalanda and Takshashila, the universal contributions of Kautilya’s Arthashastra, the Ayurvedic systems of medicine, to recall only a few, before the introduction of English by Lord Maucaulay. The author refers to the selfish and cultural motives with which English education was introduced, i, e, to serve the English masters as clerks and assimilate their cultural ethos and values. But, many of the recipients of English education also entered the ICS as administrators, something the colonial masters could not prevent.

At a more serious level, the author refers to the educational reforms recommended by Dr. S. RadhaKrishnan, whose ideas influenced the subsequent Educational Commissions headed by Dr. D S. Kothari, Dr. Yashpal and lately Dr. Kasturirangan who chaired the Committee to draft NEP 2020.

Prof. Saidapur very appropriately raises questions like what are the basic objectives of a university and points out that thinkers like Sri. Aurobindo, Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore expounded their views which were also reflected by Nehru and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, who said ‘collapse of education is the collapse of a nation’. (P.12) The Introductory Chapter is rightly summed up by cautioning the higher educational institutions (HEIs) that it is high time to study and analyse the rise and fall of universities in India and deal seriously with the complex problems arising out of globalisation and the changing demographic picture of the country. (P. 20)

In the author’s list of priotities ‘Leadership and Governance’ play a key role in the functioning of universities. He takes a broader view that the process of management of societies and nations depends on the quality of human resource and that universities bear a big chunk of the responsibility in producing the right resource. By delivering quality education in diverse fields ranging from science and technology to legal education and foreign affairs, to inculcation of moral and ethical values, universities play a cardinal role. To perform this gigantic task, universities must have the appropriate leaders as Vice Chancellors supported by Registrars and the right type of supporting structures. The author bemoans the sorry state of affairs in Indian universities. He frankly observing that many sitting vice Chancellors of state universities are appointed as members/ chairpersons of the Search Committees ( true of Karnataka as this reviewer knows) and that they are subservient to the prevailing governments and Chancellors (P.28) and recommend the panel of names which those in power want. Prof. Saidapur calls for evolving proper guidelines for Search Committees. A dire necessity in deed. In any case, under the NEP 2020, the appointment of VCs is going to be hopefully taken away from the hands of Governments/ Governors and vested with a body/ Council consisting of eminent academicians. But, this reviewer strongly feels that the government/ governor will place their favourites in the Board of Governors which will only theoretically appoint VCs!

The author’s suggestions regarding the constitution of Boards of Studies, recruitment of faculty and his plea for digital libraries with appropriate physical and digital infrastructure are worthy of implementation. I cannot agree with him more when he recalls the names of Sir. Ashutosh Mukherjee, Madan Mohan Malavia, Dr. RadhaKrishnan who provided illustrious leadership to the universities they headed. Can and will Indian universities return to such golden age is the million dollar question.

Management of financial resources is rightly engages the author’s attention. Prof. Saidapur laments the financial crunch faced by State and Central Universities while giving an overview of the sources of universities’ revenue. Reference is made to the funding received under the RUSA scheme. Creation of corpus fund idea is good. His suggestion for universities establishing linkages with industries need to be pursued pursued on a sustained basis. But, industries too have their own demands and make their own appraisals before committing funds. Universities should also tap their prominent alumnies -internally and abroad- for funds for augmenting infrastructural facilities and creation of chairs etc.

The author’s suggestion for the setting up of Schools across disciplines ranging from hard Sciences to Humanities and Social Sciences as well as providing flexibility of choices to students is timely. This is being followed in some universities across the country. But, that should become the norm. The suggestion for creating faculty positions to sustain new and existing courses, redesigning class rooms and preparation of text books and manuals are praise worthy. More importantly, Indian universities need committed and incapacitated faculty to prepare students to face contemporary challenges. This task must addressed in a wholesome manner. The sad reality is that more than 50 per cent of faculty positions in State and Central universities are vacant and governments are not according sanction to universities to fill up positions, forcing them to rely on guest faculty who lack commitment and perhaps the capability.

The author’s emphasis on the practice of professional ethics is to be lauded, but it is a cry in wilderness in an ecosystem marked by commercial and personal considerations by many teachers in the discharge of their teaching and research guidance duties across the country. The author could have made a brief reference to the fact that Indian academicians are often found lagging behind in publications, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Management of Constituent and Affiliated Colleges are also discussed by the author. His suggestion that the Constituent Colleges run by the universities must transform themselves into model colleges from whom the other colleges in the region can learn is timely. In any case, Under the NEP 2020, the system of affiliation is likely to be phased out in the coming fifteen years or so. But, the sad thing is that several States are yet to accept and implement the NEP-2020.

Role of State Higher Education Councils (SHECs) and Assessment and Accreditation of Universities are also dealt with in great detail. Given his long years of experience as a Professor and Vice Chancellor, Prof. Saidapur strongly pleads for SHECs playing a critical role in empowering HEIs to improve their governance, academic programmes and also in ushering in various academic reforms. His suggestion for annual reviews of SHECs by experts drawn from an all India panel. (P.125) is worthy of implementation. Most SHECs do not practice transparency in their functioning. Such councils have become largely bodies to legitimize government’s initiatives. As regards assessment and accreditation, the author calls for new paradigms of assessment of HEIs in view of the changing global scenario. It is gratifying to note that NAAC has recently brought out a draft white paper in this regard and working on strengthening accredition and assessment work.

Finally, the author underlines the need for universities striving to bridge the urban-rural divide prevalent in our higher education institutions. With more and more private universities with exorbitant fee structures coming across the country, the gap between the academic haves and have not is increasing. That is truly a cause for concern and needs to be remedied. Prof. Saidapur appropriately draws our attention to the challenges arising out of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI & ML), which have made inroads into teaching-learning processes. Hopefully, such technological interventions will not result in a dilution of the fundamental role of the traditional teacher, who should inspire students. In any case, heeding to the advice and suggestions made by Prof.Saidapur will go a long way in remodelling universities and repurposing higher education in India.

(The reviewer, Dr. P.S. Jayaramu, is former Professor of Political Science and former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University, Bengaluru)

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